Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

“The Price You Pay”

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 14, 2013

Martha Stark MD talks about helping patients understand the “price” of their conscious and unconscious choices in life. Megan, fifty-nine, constantly complains that she is always there for her friends, but her friends are never there for her. “You chose friends who are not as reliable or devoted as you are. That is very interesting.” I say, thinking about Dr. Stark’s point of view that  choosing relationships which lead to disappointments is the “price” paid for finding people who you otherwise find to be good reflections of your internal state. Megan, for example, seems to be pick friends that her mother, age eighty-six, would approve of. Megan thinks about re-creating her mother’s life which includes re-creating a friendship circle like her mother has. This desire to emulate her mom, comes with the “price” of picking folks who do not value loyalty or devotion in a friendship. Creating a consciousness about this “price” allows Megan, in this case, to see how she engineered her own unhappiness and she is not the victim of horrible people in the world who just “don’t care about anyone but themselves.” Every decision, every turn of events in life, is a constant weighing of pros and cons, a constant evaluation of “price”. Megan can see that she can compromise on her car, by buying a car which is not her ideal, but which fits her budget, and yet this concept, when it comes to relationships, is more elusive. Every relationship, in fact, does involve such a compromise. We never get all of what we want, and hence our job is to choose what is most important, to prioritize. Simple and complicated, at the same time, since so much of this “prioritization” is outside of our awareness. When a great deal of our decisions are based on keeping our parents happy, then we need to take a closer look. Again, that is obvious and not obvious. We will grow to resent our relationships if they were not what we wanted in the first place. Once again, the problem is almost always within and not without.


9 Responses to ““The Price You Pay””

  1. Jon said

    Unless there are effectively unlimited resources, there is always “a price to pay.” However, in the beginnings of relationships, that price is usually far from clear. If a relationship becomes not what is in some way beneficial, it becomes time to lessen or end that relationship. Since Megan in trying to please her mother, not herself, she will have to look further within herself to find how she can become happy on her own, without benefit of mom’s approval. As you say, “obvious and not obvious.” Trite but true is also, “easier said than done.”

  2. Ashana M said

    I enjoyed your expansion on this idea from yesterday’s topic.

    It makes me think of a few more pieces to this problem, although I won’t go into all of them. The rule for friendships like Megan describes are usually those that work to serve someone who is extremely self-absorbed: surrender yourself to me, and I will surrender myself to you. Except their surrender tends to be patchy–on again, off again, and not to be relied on.

    In my view, these rules amount to a portion of conscience. They are formed in the same way that we learn not to steal, not to hit, and not to lie. Psychoanalysis tends to look at guilt as an inconvenience or simply an unpleasant emotion that has to be faced, and yet knowing right from wrong and feeling guilty when we do wrong keeps the world safe for most people, at least most of the time. It is an important part of how human beings manage to live together in large groups of strangers. Repeatedly violating our conscience isn’t just unpleasant, but the beginning of the end for framing ourselves as valuable members of society.

    Part of what must be done to change how we relate to others involves looking at our own moral values and how they developed–where did they come from? and do we still want them? It isn’t just about the price, but having actions and morals that are coherent. I rarely see people consciously examining their own ethics, and yet it must be done to change ethically-bound behaviors.

    • Shirah Vollmer said

      I agree, although our own morals and ethics are defined by the choices, and hence the “prices” we pay.

      • Ashana M said

        I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that. Can you say it in a different way?

        • In other words our morals are priorities which means we are making choices and hence giving up one thing for another. For example if staying within a budget is a priority then we pay the price of spontaneity.

          • Ashana M said

            I still don’t feel I entirely understand. Ethical behavior is only a priority for some people, although most of us have some set of morals. For others, ethical behavior just isn’t at the top of the list. Most people are also able to articulate quite clearly their ethical beliefs–they are not unconscious priorities–while other priorities operate at an unconscious level. Moral values are also not outcome oriented: if she’s there for her friends, it’s not because she’s trying to achieve something in particular outside of living with a clear conscience. Sticking with a budget, on the other hand, usually has something to do with the money you want to save. Maybe it just seems to me that for some people much more is at stake when making ethical decisions than other kinds of choices–mainly, your ability to maintain a positive self-regard. It seems to me that part of her dilemma is understanding that her friends articulate a similar set of moral values as she does (most of us do choose friends who do), but they aren’t living by it. In fact, many people who articulate a morality that includes self-sacrifice are really hoping others will sacrifice for them without returning the favor. It sounds like it’s hard for her to accept that this might be the case. Anyway, I understand what you’re saying, but not entirely. But I also think I’m looking at this differently: you’re thinking of her mother’s approval being the priority, but I’m thinking it’s her own approval that’s at stake. I wouldn’t think that except the complaint is so familiar. (I was raised in cult where “dying daily to Christ” was a common phrase…the culture of self-sacrifice was intense.) People who value self-sacrifice nearly always end up with at least a few important people in their lives who find them an easy mark, and it always seems like it’s so difficult for them to understand that others who articulate the same values are sometimes really just looking out for themselves. But they are.

            Anyway, thanks for clarifying and thanks as always for raising interesting questions.

  3. Shelly said

    So what you’re saying here is that we create bonds which are good reflections of our internal state, or how we wish our internal states to be. In Megan’s case, she wishes to have good relations with her mother and therefore goes out of her way to establish relationships that would make her mother happy–to the exclusion of her own happiness, i.e. it’s a “price tag relationship,” meaning that she wouldn’t necessarily choose these people to be her friends but they are the type of people her mother would approve of. What is someone has very, very few friends, but, he or she feels that they are “real.” What is the message there? That he or she is being true to himself?

    • Yes, it is not the number of “true” friends that is critical, but rather the conscious choice of friends along with the close monitoring of whether these frends are “watching your back” or, by contrast, adding on to one’s existing internal pain. Hopefully concsious choices enables us to form all kinds of relationships, both superficial and deep, which positively enhance who we are, with a minimum of frustration and without a feeling of being diminished. Thanks.

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